Miss Tamara, The Reader

In this suite of eight stories, the three ages of woman—youth, midlife and senescence—engage in a complex and fruitful dance. A young Miss Tamara is lured by a series of postcards concealed in library books. A middle-aged Miss Tamara discovers that her new reading glasses turn the pages blank. An afternoon’s reading is disturbed by the realisation that all books have turned fatally toxic. A mysterious phone call leads to a book which blinds its readers but also to romance. Woven through these seemingly simple narratives are deep themes of youth and ageing, memory and loss, solitude and companionship, and the relationship between the physical and the mental life. Above all this is a book about reading: its pleasures, rituals, essential preciousness. Reading as an obsession which can not only isolate, but also lead to discovery and love.

Editions:

  • Polaris (Serbian and English, 2006)
  • Laguna (Serbian, 2006)
  • Blodnjak (Slovenian, 2008)
  • PS Publishing (English, UK, 2009, as a part of The Writer / The Book / The Reader omnibus)
  • Xenia Editions (French, Swiss, 2009)
  • Kurodahan Press (English, Japan, 2010)
  • Zavod (Serbian and English, 2009, as a part of the Nemoguće priče / Impossible Stories omnibus)
  • Cadmus Press (English, Japan, 2016, as a part of the Impossible Stories II omnibus)

Polaris Serbian edition Polaris English edition Laguna Serbian edition Blodnjak Slovenian edition PS English edition The Reader_French impossible-stories-ii_english_cadmus-press


An excerpt, translated from the Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic:

Miss Tamara always ate apples while she read. She called this healthy reading. She only liked tart apples, even though their acidity gave her stomach trouble. She would choose three large apples, always the same dark-green variety. She did not peel them. First she cut them into quarters and then removed the core and seeds. Each quarter was subsequently cut into three slices so that she would have one for each of the thirty-six pages that she read every day.

She would take a slice at the beginning of a page and slowly nibble at it, making sure it lasted until the final line. She would keep the nibbled bits in her mouth, chew them some more, then finally swallow the pulpy mouthful when she reached the bottom of the page. As her reading progressed, the sour taste in her mouth grew more and more pronounced. The first thing she did when she set the book aside was to brush her teeth thoroughly. This usually wasn’t enough, however, and the sourness lingered, but it didn’t bother her. Some things must be endured for the sake of one’s health.

This healthy reading continued until one day something unexpected happened. Out of the blue, a thought struck Miss Tamara that forced her to swallow the chewed part of the slice, even though two paragraphs remained until the bottom of the first page of her new book. If she turned the page and continued reading—she would die.

There was no immediate stimulus for this thought. Death was not mentioned anywhere on the first page, and it rarely appeared in the works Miss Tamara read. Her general circumstances did not give rise to thoughts of death either. She had just turned forty and was the picture of health, unaccustomed to anything worse than sporadic winter sniffles.

Although nothing like it had ever crossed her mind before, Miss Tamara had no doubt at all about the veracity of her premonition: death lay in wait for her if she continued reading. It seemed absolutely certain, although she was unable to explain why. Fortunately, she did not have to explain herself to anyone.

She closed the book at once in order to stop the first page from turning by accident, and put it in her lap. Then she concluded that this was not safe enough, so she got up from the armchair by the window where she always read, went up to the big bookshelf on the opposite wall, and deposited the large hardback there. She stepped back to the middle of the living room, looked at the bookshelf from that distance, and realized that she had made a mistake.

The deadly book did not belong there either. The bookshelf held only works she had read and liked, and decided to keep so she could go back to them from time to time. She might have liked this one—the title was promising—but she definitely would not be reading it. Even if she’d wanted to, how would it be possible? She would never get beyond the second page. The dearly departed do not read.

She took the book out gingerly with her thumb and index finger, as though removing an explosive device. She stepped back from the bookshelf again and reflected. What should she do with it? She knew what she’d do if it were a run-of-the-mill volume. Books she didn’t like were taken to the secondhand bookstore and sold at a loss or given to a friend with different reading habits.

This was clearly out of the question. She couldn’t have an innocent soul on her conscience, particularly that of a friend. Others might be totally oblivious to the impending danger. After finishing the first page they would turn it unsuspectingly and start to read the second, and that would be the last one they ever began. If she allowed this to happen, she would be as culpable as a callous terrorist.

She had no choice. She had to commit the ultimate sacrilege: throw the book in the garbage. She felt terrible about it, but this would at least prevent a much greater misfortune. She headed for the kitchen and had already raised the lid of the garbage can, when it occurred to her that she couldn’t get rid of it that casually.

Someone might find it at the dump before it was destroyed. There are those who sift through the garbage looking for things that can still be used. They wouldn’t necessarily start reading it. People who hang around dumps aren’t inclined to do that in general. But they would be in mortal danger if they just leafed through it.

She lowered the lid. The book had to be destroyed before she threw it in the garbage. That way no one would come to any harm. This was even more unpleasant, but what else could she do? And then a new problem cropped up. How was she going to do it? She couldn’t keep her eyes open as she tore up the pages. That would be the same as continuing to read after the first page. She would have to tear them up sight unseen.

She took a long woollen scarf out of the clothes closet and went back to the kitchen. Sitting down at the table, she placed the book in front of her and firmly bound her eyes. She made two knots at the back of her head just in case, then put her hands in front of her face to make sure she couldn’t see anything.

The torment that filled her because of what she was doing was short-lived. It was driven away by the realization that this had to be done. She tore up the book patiently and methodically, page by page. The task turned out to be easier than she imagined. When she felt for the pile of torn-up paper, she was satisfied to find it constantly growing.

When only the cover was left, she removed the blindfold. She took a large plastic bag, filled it with the torn paper, added the cover, then put everything into the garbage can. There. Now this terrible book could not hurt anyone. It had been a stroke of luck that she’d gotten hold of it first.

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